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Review of 'Before We Say Goodbye', a novel by Louise Candlish
I am reviewing the paperback version of this novel, published by Little Brown, part of the Sphere Books group. The book contains 404 pages, ISBN 9780751540383, cover price £6.99, genre Modern Fiction.
Maggie Lane has lived a full life, not always a traditional life, but a full one none the less. When Maggie dies, she leaves her daughter Olivia a piece of information, the address of Richie Briscoe. Richie was the son of one of Maggie's men friends and Olivia's first love. The pair had enjoyed a teenage romance but, thanks to Maggie's intervention, their relationship was not destined to last.
Olivia and her brother Dean had grown up to become slightly scarred adults thanks to Maggie's habit of drifting in and out of their lives during their formative years. It was only due to their father's consistency and care, that they were not totally damaged individuals.
During Maggie's final years, her life was dominated by ill-health and an uneasy mother/daughter relationship had developed between the women. Olivia had done what she could for her mother but due to her own commitments and the fact that she lived quite some distance from Maggie, she had had to leave the bulk of her mother's care to a live-in carer, Lindy.
After the funeral, Olivia receives a letter from her mother through the post. It has been sent by the carer who is acting under instructions Maggie had given to her in her last few months. The letter contains Richie Briscoe's address and it throws Olivia into turmoil as she frets over what she should do with the information. Her gut instinct is to drop everything and run off to find Richie, even though it has been many years since she even saw him.
There is a big problem with that option, time has passed and life has moved on, Olivia now has a husband and family.
Depressed, unhappy, bored with life and feeling totally washed out after the tensions of her mother's death, Olivia makes her decision.
Does she try to recapture the love of her past or do the sensible thing and forget all about Richie?
==My Thoughts and Conclusion==
I have read another novel by this author which I thoroughly enjoyed and I purchased this book on the strength of that knowledge. 'Before We Say Goodbye' did not disappoint me, although the writing style was very different from the other novel as the plot switched between the character's pasts and current situations, it was a very enjoyable book.
The characters were very well drawn and on the whole, believable. I must admit to disliking the central character, Olivia, intensely. I would have thought that having had a turbulent childhood herself, the last thing she would have wanted to do was to cause distress for her own two children. Olivia's choices and actions were the premise for the entire plot the reasons that she acted as she did, were central to the storyline.
The novel is very well written and the author has that knack of making the reader feel that they are witnessing the events as they unfold. 'Before We Say Goodbye' is definitely a chick-lit type novel, but would be readers need not fear that this is the silly, fluffy sort of writing sometimes associated with the genre, this novel has a punch to pack and is quite thought provoking.
I enjoyed this novel, I would recommend it to others and am awarding 'Before We Say Goodbye' a 5* rating.
Thank you for reading
©brittle1906 June 2012.
N.B. My reviews may be found on other sites under the same user name.
Maggie Lane is on her deathbed, and as she tries to apologise to her daughter Olivia, for all the things she has done wrong in her daughter's life, Olivia silences her believing that she does not need to hear her apologies. Then Maggie dies and leaves a lot of unanswered questions for both Olivia, and her angry brother Dean. After her death Olivia receives a note through the post (from beyond the grave I guess) - her mother had arranged for this to be sent once she had passed away. All that it contained was an address of an old flame from Olivia's past, otherwise known as Richie.
Olivia, convinced that this was some sort of encrypted message from her mother, sets off to find Richie and discover any secrets that may be festering from the past. In doing this she is leaving her husband Russell, and her two boys Jamie and Noah, to fend for themselves. She only intends to stay for a night or two, but it in fact ends up being a lot longer than this.
As the story progresses it bounces between past and present, and alternates between Olivia's point of view, and Russell's. When reading from Olivia's perspective, I really struggled to get to grips with her as a person and I found myself disliking her, she seemed to be devoid of any feelings for her family, her main interest seemed to lie in this Richie character - someone who she had not seen for almost 20 years. And when she turned up on his doorstep unannounced, expecting him to welcome her in (which he did, which also irritated me, I'm not sure an old flame of mine would welcome me into his house at the drop of a hat), and then she just hangs around, assuming that Richie is okay with this situation. What surprised me even more was that Richie does not question her motives for appearing out of the blue, he just seems to accept it and treats her as a good friend, even entrusting his 5 year old daughter into her care.
I found I actually hated reading the sections about Olivia, and at one point I almost gave up altogether, I just could not identify with her. She just didn't ring true as a mother figure, and a grieving one at that. She had a family at home and yet here she was falling in love with someone else's life. I understand that she had recently lost her Mother and therefore a little out of sorts; perhaps even on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but this simply did not come across very well in the book. To me, she just seemed completely selfish leaving her family to look after themselves, not even bothering to tell them where she was. All she seemed to be interested in was chasing a brief fling from her past which she had clearly over dramatised in her head to be the love of the century.
As you read about Olivia's past you realise that she was dealt a cruel hand where her mother was concerned - Maggie often left the family home unannounced and would not return for days, sometimes years, which also left me wondering why Olivia was now doing the exact same thing. Maggie even ended up in America at one point, and came back with a new husband to be (despite not yet being divorced from Olivia's father) and his son - Richie. It is here that we learn about Olivia's original relationship with Richie (the love of the century). As I said earlier, this love affair she had was definitely over dramatised, it happened when she was 15 years old for crying out loud, and only lasted a few weeks, but she had clung onto it all these years and somehow she believed her mother had ruined her life by causing the events that led Richie to return to America and ultimately end Olivia's relationship with him.
As I read about Russell I felt a great deal of sympathy for him; here he was stranded at home with a 12 and 14 year old, having to hold down a full time job, and make sure the children were in and out of school on time; all the while wondering where the hell his wife had disappeared to, and the increasing worry that she was never going to return. This to me seemed real and it sounds quite sadistic to say that I actually enjoyed reading Russell's perspective on the situation, but I just felt I could identify with him, understood his struggle, and really wanted things to work out for him.
Once I got over the fact that I did not like Olivia, I began to read the book at every opportunity mainly because I simply wanted to see what the outcome was going to be. Olivia, annoying and presumptuous as she was, presumptuous that she could just slot into Richie's life like she had always been there, and annoying that she didn't seem to care what she was doing to her family at home, was going through some sort of mental crisis, and there seemed to be some hidden secrets from the past that needed to be discovered in order for the book to reach a decent conclusion. It still irritated me that she was not giving anything away with regard to what was going through her mind, to her husband Russell or to Richie, and expected them both to be satisfied with this, but I really had to persevere with the book to find out how things were going to turn out for these three characters.
Once I'd finished reading, I was quite happy with the way it ended, but found that it left me thinking why Maggie had done the things she'd done. I was left wondering if she had something to explain to Olivia, why she had waited until after she had died, why she couldn't have spoken to her daughter while she was still living and breathing is beyond me. But perhaps this is the way the author wanted it to be; perhaps the character of Maggie would have loved dealing the final blow to Olivia from beyond the grave.
I thought the book was okay, but as you may have realised my dislike of Olivia ruined it for me. Every decision, every thought she had in her head made me dislike her even further. Even Richie I discovered to be a bit lacking in depth and I found I couldn't particularly warm to him either, especially with some of the decisions he made throughout the book. And with these two being the main characters ultimately makes the novel as a whole a big disappointment, I don't want to be annoyed while I am reading; I want to be hooked or in the least have a bit of sympathy for the main characters.
I don't particularly want to recommend this book, but if you feel it might interest you then give it a try. It's perfectly readable, just not enjoyable.
When Olivia Lane's mother, Maggie, dies, she leaves Olivia a note which has on it the address of Olivia's first love, Richie. Olivia hasn't seen Richie for more than twenty years, after her mother seemingly sabotaged their relationship, so she jumps at the chance to be reunited with him. Olivia flees to Millington and finds she's still in love with Richie and thinks of his daughter, Wren, as the daughter she never had.Trouble is, Olivia has a family back in London, a husband and two sons. Who will Olivia choose to be with?
My first, and only, Louise Candlish book I've read was the outstanding Since I Don't Have You which ranks high up on my list of best books ever so I was always going to be doubtful about any further books by Louise. I also have another of Louise's books to read, The Second Husband, but decided to read her newest Before We Say Goodbye as it sounded like a fabulous read.
I thought the book opened perfectly, on the eve of Maggie's death, and I was quickly dragged into the book. It's told in three parts - I'm not a fan of books being in parts - but the "parts" don't jump time too much, if at all. The whole of the first part is told in the first-person perspective by Olivia and the last two parts alternate between first- and third-person, bringing in Olivia's husband Russell's perspective, which helps to balance out the book. I enjoyed the added perspective as I didn't think Olivia was enough of a force to keep the whole book going with just her thoughts.
For me though, the let down of the book were the characters. I didn't like Olivia at all. I thought she was incredibly selfish especially since she herself grew up with an absent mother, granted her mother, Maggie, was away far longer than Olivia was, but that isn't the point. Olivia still deserted her two children, Noah and Jamie, even though her mothers' desertion disgusted her. It made her out to be a bit of a hypocrite. I was surprised at how quick she was to take herself off to Millington in search of Richie. I know a lot happened between them but even so, it was twenty years ago. Unsurprisingly though, both Olivia and Richie still felt the same about each other which was a bit hard to take. For a while Olivia came across very clingy once she met up with Richie again and it drove me insane as I found it difficult to swallow. Surely one of them would have changed in the twenty years they hadn't seen each other? but no. I can't say I particularly liked Richie. I don't really know why, I just couldn't take to him. For most of the book, my sympathies were with Russell until Jana came into the picture. Then he lost all credibility, too, as far as I was concerned. My favourite character was probably young Wren, Richie's daughter. It says it all when my favourite character is a child.
One of the highlights of the book were the flashbacks to Olivia and Dean's childhood. We learn exactly what their mothers abandonment did to them and why they resented her so much. We also learn how Olivia and Richie first fell in love and eventually we also learn how it all went wrong. I thought those chapters really added to the book and I enjoyed them immensely. It took a while to get to the crux of the matter, but it didn't disappoint. The flashbacks were definitely my favourite part and they helped to mould the story better and added flesh to the whole thing. I have to admit that I didn't see what Maggie did that was so wrong it warranted so much hate from her children. Yes, she abandoned them which was awful but Olivia made her out to be the anti-christ particularly when it came to Richie. Olivia held one heck of a grudge in regards to what her mother allegedley did to try and end Olivia and Richie's relationship. Even twenty years later she still didn't seem to be over it all. I can understand it, because Olivia did go through a lot after Richie left, but it also seemed a bit... I don't know, childish? I felt that after twenty years she should have moved on. Olivia had a loving husband and two great children but she still wasn't happy.
For all I've said about the book, I didn't hate it. I just wasn't a fan of any of the characters. It's hinted that Olivia is having some kind of breakdown, but that never really took off. It was an underlying thing that never really happened. It's a shame I didn't find it lived up to expectations. It was a great idea for a plot and it worked in a way, it just wasn't what I expected and I found the characters incredibly disappointing. One last thing I have to mention is the ending. It seemed like a cop-out - it was too quick. I would recommend this if you liked Louise's other books but it you're new to Louise I'd recommed you read Since I Don't Have You.
" Why would she send me the only man in the world who makes me feel like this? "
Olivia Lane has just buried her mother Maggie. Her death has brought back painful memories of the past, of her mother leaving her father, brother and herself for another man and continually letting her children down for the rest of their lives.
But Maggie's legacy is set to tear Olivia's own family apart, as just after her death she receives a letter from her mother containing the address of Olivia's childhood sweetheart, Richie Briscoe. Desperate to know why her mother has sent her this information, she hasn't seen Richie for over twenty years since he broke her heart, she sets off to find him and the secrets he may hold. Olivia finds herself falling in love with Richie's idyllic seaside town, his 5 year old daughter and him all over again. But what about her own husband and two children? Is history about to repeat itself?
I had mixed feelings throughout reading this book. It started off quite well, with Olivia meeting her terminally ill mother on the eve of her death, her mother trying to apologise and Olivia not allowing her to do so. I was instantly intrigued and drawn into the plot, what exactly had Maggie done that resulted in her daughter, and son Dean, hate her so much?
However, as the mystery of the letter containing Richie's address began to take shape, I started to really struggle with the book. The main reason for this was that I just couldn't connect or relate with Olivia as a character at all. When she arrives in Richie's village she doesn't tell him why she is there, and to begin with plans only to stay a couple of days, but ends up just hanging around. This is clearly supposed to be some sort of breakdown resulting from her mother's death, however I feel it was so flippantly handled by the author it just didn't ring true. I found it very difficult to believe in. I didn't have an issue about her leaving her own children, I do feel I would have been able to empathise with this, but despite being written in the first person from Olivia, I found the writing to be quite unemotional and detached. In an emotive plot like this I feel it's vital the reader can empathise and become emotionally involved with the lead character. Unfortunately on this occasion I could not and I didn't really have a clue what she was feeling or what was driving her.
It wasn't just Olivia I found unbelievable as a character. Richie also had me bewildered. I'm fairly certain if an ex from my youth turned up twenty years later, having walked out on their life and clearly in the midst of a nervous breakdown, I'd have some questions. Richie just accepts that she's hanging around him like a stalker, in fact he leaves his own 5 year old daughter with Olivia. I couldn't accept anyone would be like this, and again it didn't ring true. It all seemed contrived and quite unlikely.
I was able to sympathise with Olivia's husband, Russell, who we visit regularly through the book in the third person. I found that when the author was writing this way, things were vastly improved. I think perhaps the whole book would have been better this way, as Olivia just isn't deep enough for the first person narrative she is given to carry this story off. There were also some humorous and incredibly endearing moments here, as he struggles to tackle domesticity and childcare as well as a full-time job. I liked him very much and thought he was very well written.
However, things weren't all bad and there were also some very good parts. I particularly enjoyed the flashbacks to Olivia's own childhood, littered throughout the book. I found young Olivia far easier to relate too, was completely drawn in to the intensity of her and Richie's young love affair, and the following devastation she feels when he leaves. I also found Olivia's mother, Maggie an intriguing and complex character. I'd have loved to know more about her.
Another praise I have for the book overall is that I never quite knew where it was going. I had ideas forming in my head, but it ended up not being the case, and despite my other criticisms it certainly wasn't predictable. The book came full circle and ended extremely well. The final 100 pages were by far the best and although I'd been able to take it or leave it for much of the middle, I couldn't put it down in the end. In the final 5 pages I found myself feeling the emotions I'd really wanted to feel all the way through and ended the story with a lump in my throat and feeling pleased I'd persevered, as at one point I was on the verge of giving up completely. The only thing that kept me going was that I had nothing else with me to read.
Overall, I found this a disappointing book. While there were highs to the story, they just didn't outweigh the lows completely for me. The premise was great. It looked at how a mother's actions can affect her children, if it's possible to find forgiveness and is history always destined to repeat itself. It tackles a more taboo area, of a mother being selfish rather than selfless and a father being the constant and stable caring figure. This is an interesting and refreshing angle to take, as there are any amount of books about single mothers or woman who have been wronged by a man and I do applaud the author for writing a story showing the opposite can also be true. Sadly the two dimensional Olivia ruined what could have been a very good book and on the whole made it unbelievable and unmoving. I felt that Olivia's past and nervous breakdown were sold out for a tacky romance and that's a real shame. If I could rate this 2.5 stars I would, 2 stars seem very harsh so I give it 3.
~ Other Information ~
Before we say Goodbye is Louise Candlish's 5th novel.
Published in the Uk by Sphere in 2009